January 22, 2020
The Y4Y team thanks Shannon Browning, 21st CCLC Program Director at Macomb Public School in Oklahoma, for her heartfelt answers to questions about food insecurity faced by so many Oklahoma students. Ms. Browning offers great ideas on how 21st CCLC programs in other states can also help.
Y4Y: Food insecurity is not an uncommon challenge among 21st CCLC students. Can you share how prevalent this is in your state, and what that insecurity looks like?
SB: According to the Oklahoma Health Equity Campaign, one out of every four Oklahoma children lives with food insecurity. From the small, rural, high-poverty perspective, it feels even more prevalent. Our school offers breakfast and lunch to all of our students at no charge, and now we are able to provide a snack before and supper following our 21st CCLC afterschool program. What does this look like for us? We have several children that have approached me before 9 a.m. at school asking me what we would be serving for supper. One moment that will forever stand out in my mind is when I had a student in the first grade start crying one day when school was releasing early and we had to cancel afterschool programming because of a storm coming into our community. I walked into the elementary to make sure we had contacted all of the parents, and the student was sobbing in the hallway. I sat down with him and tried to comfort him, explaining that it was just a precaution and we would all be OK. He told me he was crying because he would not get to eat supper that night. The only meals this child ate were at our school. Food insecurity is a very real thing to these children.
Y4Y: Funding from 21st CCLC grants cannot be used for food, yet you have described food security as a priority in your programs. How have grantees worked creatively to address this concern?
SB: Our leadership team, led by our superintendent, Matt Riggs, placed food security as a top priority and focus of our program from the very first day. It was never an option to “not” provide this service. Our cafeteria manager is very actively involved in making sure we meet all the child nutrition guidelines for this service. We have an outstanding 21st CCLC Oklahoma State Department of Education team that connects us with the right resources. While the supper program is not a 21st CCLC-funded program, we work hand-in-hand to make sure that it works for all of our students who need it.
This past July, the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning and Representative Monroe Nichols from District 72 hosted a gathering of leaders in Oklahoma City. The conference was designed for leaders across the state to explore several topics facing Oklahoma students, with a focus on the role out-of-school time programming plays in supporting those students. Topics included Oklahoma’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan, addressing food insecurity and healthy living, adverse childhood experiences and outlining a collective legislative agenda. The topic most heavily discussed was food insecurity.
Y4Y: Can you describe specific examples or anecdotes along your path to ensure that your students are well nourished that would be useful to other states facing the same concerns?
SB: We work together with several organizations to provide food and resources for the families in our community. We partner with the Avedis Foundation, Department of Human Services, Chickasaw Nation, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Absentee Shawnee tribe, local churches and community members to help find resources suited to each of our families’ needs. We had a student-led group that initiated providing boxes of food for students every Friday that would last them through the weekend. While this started out as a small initiative, it snowballed into an enormous resource for our community. At one point, we were sending home boxed meals for over 40 students. Because of space, two of our local churches took this over to better serve our community. This program is still running today, three years later.
Y4Y: Please share any additional benefits or surprising outcomes that resulted from your state placing a priority on food security for its students.
SB: One benefit was a wonderful response to our afterschool and summer programs. Our attendance is well above our targeted 65 students each day, usually ranging from 70 to 85 students daily, and continues to grow each year. Our community is supportive of what we are doing for the students. The Macomb community, like so many small rural communities in Oklahoma, had become very disjointed from the school and each other. This program has helped to restore a conversation between the school and community that had been deficient in past years. I think the community understands that the school and partners are working with the families rather than against them. Food insecurity is real not only with our children, but also with our adults. Placing emphasis on this need in their personal lives seems to help reinforce this common goal.
Y4Y: Did we miss any important points around this issue? If so, please share any other wisdom on the topic.
SB: Food insecurity and the results thereof are among several issues slowly degrading small communities in rural Oklahoma. If we can help even a small portion of this problem by addressing the food needs of the family and giving them a resource lifeline, we can make a difference in our community, our state, and our world.